Air University Review, January-February 1982

Patriotism and the U.S. All-Volunteer Military

Dr. Morris Janowitz

Social scientists who make use of research findings to explain the limitations and strains found in the contemporary all-volunteer military tend to agree on one central conclusion. In general, they accept the premise that adequate economic incentives are of crucial importance. However, economic incentives are an insufficient basis for adapting the all-volunteer military establishment to a set of reasonable goals for the United States. This is the perspective of a variety of historians, psychologists, political scientists, and sociologists. Only the economists remain unmoved in their persistent conviction that higher pay incentives will solve the recruitment, retention, and performance dilemmas of the military services. In fact, some economists believe that the all-volunteer military, as originally designed by the Gates Commission, has not been given a fair test from the economic point of view; that is, truly competitive wages have not been tried.

Responses from other disciplines range broadly and encompass a variety of recommendations:

• establishment of a voluntary or mandatory national service;

• organization change, especially the adoption of a modified form of the British regimental organization for the ground combat forces, where the weaknesses of the all-volunteer force are most pronounced and apparent;

• new styles of leadership;

• radical decentralization of selected aspects of operational command;

• new systems of recruitment, especially including educational benefits with priority in the allocation of federal educational benefits to attend post high school institutions for those who have served for two or three years in the military forces;

• extensive modification of the career patterns of regular long-term military personnel; and

• more precise formulation of U.S. foreign policy objectives and clearer enunciation of these goals by the elected political leadership.

A few military professionals with strong interest in manpower problems have recommended a reduction in the size of the all-volunteer force; they claim the result would be greater effectiveness and that the present level of active-duty manpower is not required. Other social scientists are skeptical of the ability of the all-volunteer force to be effective over the next decade, given our contemporary U.S. foreign policy.

From my point of view, it is striking that during the period of the all-volunteer force there has been very little research and even less policy discussion of the actual and potential significance of patriotism (and ideology), while our foreign policy has been oriented toward deterrence in the context of the threat of nuclear weapons. My approach to this problem is to examine the meaning of patriotism in the contemporary period and to press for conceptual and terminological clarification. What are we talking about when we use the term patriotism? Can the traditional ideas of patriotism be reconstructed to be relevant for a modern all-volunteer force? I believe that ideas such as patriotism need to be modernized or adapted to contemporary realities rather than neglected and avoided.

Also, this article seeks to explore the implications of patriotism — traditional or reconstructed — for democratic political institutions and civilian control of the military. Civilian control is broadly defined to include the political imperative that the locus of decision-making in military affairs rests in the hands of elected civilian officeholders. It also includes the idea that the agencies of defense management are so organized that military professionalism can be effectively practiced, in particular so that the military may effectively utilize their expertise in rendering advice. A democratic society rests on a value consensus. This hardly means a total or comprehensive consensus, but it does mean at least a limited consensus on fundamental principles. Therefore, I will address both positive and negative implications of patriotism as an element in this value consensus.

The relative lack of research on the role of patriotism and political ideology in the all-volunteer force is not the result of the perspective or findings of research about conscription. Particular military analysts have stressed that the "discovery" of the importance of the primary group by the social scientists diverted their attention from the political elements in military morale. Of course, social scientists, especially during World War II, sought to study the dynamics of primary group affiliation as part of their comprehensive analysis of military organization. Until that time, primary group cohesion in the military had not been studied or explored extensively. But social researchers did not view the military as a collection of separate and suspended primary groups. In "Cohesion and Disintegration of the Wehrmacht in World War II," the systemic importance of secondary symbols was identified and emphasized.1 Likewise, secondary symbols, including nationalism and patriotism, were not seen as factors separate and unrelated to the structure of primary group relations. The authors Edward Shils and Morris Janowitz were interested in the articulation — and disarticulation — between primary group structure and patterns of secondary symbols. If these two sets of factors were not mutually supporting, cohesive primary groups could work against military effectiveness. We formulated an explicit proposition about the necessity of such linkages and stated:

The capacity of the primary group to resist disintegration was dependent on the acceptance of political, ideological, and cultural symbols (all secondary symbols) only to the extent that these secondary symbols became directly associated with primary gratifications.2

The linkages between primary groups and the larger institutional structure of the Wehrmacht were various, but especially important was the symbolism of Hitler. Hitler was a remote but highly effective representation to the average German soldier and officer of the importance and legitimacy of sacrifice on the battlefield.

Thus, the state of research on the eve of the introduction of the all-volunteer military should have stimulated research into the role of secondary symbolism — including patriotism and nationalism — in the all-volunteer force. In fact, given the self-selection of military personnel into the armed forces, the importance of patriotism and other secondary symbolism might be stronger than in particular groupings under the general and heterogeneous recruitment patterns of conscription. The failure to study these crucial questions was in part due to two reasons. First, in social science circles, the idea of patriotism has been subject to intense criticism and negativism. It had taken, with some justification, a beating, especially among the intellectuals. Second, social scientists, and I include myself, do not operate with a carefully worked out research agenda that stresses continuity over time; rather we stumble from project to project, study to study, with the result that crucial data required for trend studies are not effectively and systematically collected and analyzed. But we are still faced with the task of clarifying and reconstructing the meaning and consequences of patriotism, especially the impact it has on the all-volunteer military force.

Patriotism, Ideology,
and Civic Consciousness

The sociopolitical conception of military service — conscript or volunteer — is clarified to some extent by examining three related terms at the same time: patriotism, ideology or political ideology, and civic consciousness. Military service in a democracy is related to citizenship. Citizenship, as I use the term, has been profoundly influenced by nationalism and by Western nationalist revolutions, particularly the American and French revolutions. The nation-state was offered by the leaders of these revolutions as an appropriate unit for organizing social, economic, and political reform. Therefore, it is not surprising that citizenship has in the past been bound up with patriotism and nationalist ideology. But nationalism as a form of political ideology and patriotism have become battered ideas under constant intellectual attack. I seek to make use of these terms not only as polemic devices but also as they have been clarified by social scientists. Of course, this is not completely possible.

I shall, therefore, introduce and define a third term, civic consciousness. My interest in this term is multiple. I wish to avoid the negative connotations of patriotism and the persistent ambiguities of ideology. I also wish to deal directly and explicitly with the reconstruction of patriotism into a format relevant for contemporary citizenship and civic education in a highly interdependent world arena.

It is well recognized that patriotism is markedly different from political ideology, although there are various political ideologies which make extensive use of patriotic symbols. By an ideology I mean an elaborated and explicitly formulated, complex system of beliefs designed to support a comprehensive program of sociopolitical action. (The term political is therefore redundant when one uses the term ideology.) Moreover, an ideology requires thoroughgoing affirmation and observance. To hold particular beliefs hardly implies that the person has an ideology; nor is a loose collection of political proposals an ideology. Of course, one can speak of a partial ideology for such political perspectives. The central aspect of an ideology is that it offers its adherents a compelling code of behavior for most or all life situations.

By contrast, patriotism is not based on an elaborated or complex system of ideas and symbols. To the contrary, patriotism is essentially a primordial attachment to a territorial society, a deeply felt and almost primitive sentiment of belonging; a sense of identification similar to religious, racial, or ethnic identifications. Of course, patriotism has been historically associated with the ethos of modern national societies. Patriotism involves an automatic, almost unthinking response and is in this sense analogous to an ideology. However, it offers no detailed code of behavior but rather a generalized orientation to action.

Although both ideology and patriotism as concepts suffer from an overload of polemics and the difficulty of precise meaning, one cannot avoid the issues that these ideas raise. The elaborate and comprehensive character of an ideology has been the source of much criticism. Ideology also implies rigidity, which is viewed with suspicion. Ideology is in this sense at variance with recourse to pragmatic philosophy and practice, to learning by experience that has been so central in the development of citizenship. But there is a powerful attraction in ideology, especially among undergraduate college students. Therefore, the principle-mindedness of an advocate with a developed ideology remains a component of discourse in a pragmatic and democratic polity. The tolerable input from ideological sources might be described as involving a small number of ideological adherents and wide diffusion of their ideas, with no extensive or preponderant commitment or ability that would block collective problem-solving.

Patriotism, precisely because it is an unthinking response, has also been subject to intellectual, analytic, and moral criticism. In a period of scientific and technological development, patriotism becomes strained. Vocal critics have argued that the interdependence of the world community makes nationalism and traditional patriotism outmoded, useless, and even counterproductive. This argument deals with the full range of social, economic, and political forms of interdependence. However, the crucial aspect of this argument rests on the worldwide distribution of instruments of mass destruction, which makes nationalism vestigial at best.

In short, in this view nuclear weapons have ended the relevance of the nation-state. The analogy with the decline of the city-state and the growth of the nation-state is offered. The danger rests not only on the possibility of nuclear holocaust but also on the strain to human society that could result if the nuclear arms race continues unmonitored and uninhibited. Indeed, some form of world government is the alternative if human values are to survive. Therefore, conventional notions of citizenship are obsolete and counterproductive; world allegiance needs to be substituted for national patriotism. While only a tiny minority of the electorate adheres to such a perspective, the impact of this type of thinking has had discernible consequences in weakening traditional forms of patriotism. The result has been to produce considerable popular uneasiness about patriotism.

I reject this type of global "world citizenship" analysis. To reject such analysis hardly implies an acceptance of the status quo or a lack of recognition of the profound transformation of the world arena in the last half century. Obviously, the world community has become more and more interdependent, and the component parts are not effectively integrated. The existing forms of national and international organization suffer from "cultural lag." Existing values prevent the emergence of more appropriate institutions. However, merely to assert that the nation-state is outmoded and obsolete is to engage in an oversimplified and overdetermined form of societal evolution. Societal change that produces more complex and more interdependent organizations does not eliminate earlier and more self-contained social forms. Instead, the result is a greater degree of internal specialization in these organizations as the construction of new and more comprehensive ones takes place.

This is the case for a wide range of social institutions: the family, the local community, and the nation-state. The growth of urbanization and industrialization did not eliminate the family but narrowed its functions and altered its internal relations. The same is true of the local community. Elimination of the local residential community, anticipated by some social forecasters, has not taken place with increased population concentration and new modes of urban transportation. Again the local community has become more specialized as new and larger units of organization have been superimposed on local institutions.

Transformation of the nation-state continues. The growth of world regional and supranational organizations has been impressive even if the achieved results have failed to meet hoped for expectations. We have created the bare bones of worldwide institutions. But the essential assumption for the student of citizenship in my judgment is that the nation-state remains the essential and basic unit, directly and indirectly, in the search for a more viable world order. The nation-state becomes more important as specific functions and tasks are transferred to more encompassing institutions. This is the case because viable and effective nation-states are and will continue to be the basic and essential component elements of regional and supranational institution building.

The implications for citizenship and the reconstruction of patriotism are clear, although the means for attaining them remain depressingly elusive. Each citizen of a democratic polity has a set of rights and obligations to his nation-state. These are basic and paramount. Likewise, each person has a set of international or rather "supranational" rights and obligations that are at best emerging and which remain diffuse and unclarified. In principle, there is no fundamental or unbridgeable incompatibility between the rights and obligations of national and supranational citizenship or between national and supranational patriotism. In effect, however, particular, specific aspects of national citizenship and nationalistic patriotism have to be adapted to the requirements of a highly interdependent world. But, to repeat, national citizenship is not expected to dissolve but, rather, to remain the central and viable core of a broader sense of citizenship. Regional integration, such as economic institutions in Western Europe, can become of crucial importance, but such developments only serve to specialize the functions of the nation-state and in fact increase its importance in the search for a political base for a stronger world order.

Because of the gross dysfunction of the nuclear arms race, the world arena is better characterized as a "world disorder" than as a "world system." But the basic elements of a rudimentary world community operate. To strengthen it, one must deny in part the Kantian assumption that universal freedom within nations is required. I am prepared to abandon this requirement since I do not expect the future world community to be without misery and without war. The goal of national and international citizenship and a reconstructed patriotism is a world in which the struggle against human misery is carried on with considerable energy — more than present levels of nationalism have engendered. The goal is a world in which war is limited to conventional weapons and in which even conventional war is subject to persistent international political inhibition. In other words, the deliberate initiative in the use of nuclear weapons or even the expectation of their inevitable use renders my analysis useless. Clearly, realistic enlarged citizenship does not require a world military balance based on the elimination of national and regional systems of nuclear weapons. Instead, it requires reasonable bilateral and multilateral accords of mutual controls, which I believe are feasible among existing political systems and must be augmented by supranational monitoring systems.

If the nation-state remains the basic organizational unit for the social construction of a broader sense of patriotism, national citizens function in the world community in two distinct configurations.

• First and centrally, the individual functions through the official agencies of his political regime. This is obvious but inescapable.

• Second, unclear and most troublesome is the need for the individual citizen to exercise some aspect of his citizen rights and obligations directly in the world community with only limited mediation by his national government.

But I am not immobilized by the fact that democratic polities should and will be judged by a higher standard of performance in this regard than one-party states.

Therefore, it becomes necessary to ponder the definition and redefinition of the content and meaning of nationalism, particularly national ideology and patriotism in the contemporary period. Is it possible to think of a delicate balance of vigorous national sentiments with ever-strengthened supranational civic aspirations? In sociological analysis, the distinction between "locals" and "cosmopolitans" is too often overdrawn and rigidly applied. The United States is not made up exclusively of nationalists (locals) or internationalists (cosmopolitans). Those who think of themselves as internationalists constitute a tiny minority. The bulk of the population is nationalists of varying intensity. It is crucial that segments of the nationalists have already expanded their sociopolitical space to include in varying degrees a supranational frame of reference. We are not dealing with a zero-sum game; international identifications are not necessarily developed at the expense of more localistic or delimited affiliations.

Nor is patriotism an inherent barrier to the search for world citizenship. Of course, traditional forms of patriotism that developed in the second half of the nineteenth century and the first half of the twentieth century are far from appropriate. Articulated patriotism, incorporating a clear element of self-conscious awareness, is required for the emergence of supranational citizenship. In fact, there has been an observable modification of patriotism in the United States. To describe the situation in alternative terms, the refashioning of nationalist ideology and traditional patriotism has already proceeded to that point where global international sentiments are not the only alternative to traditional nationalism and conventional patriotism. In elements of the population — a minority though it be — one can find a sense of enlightened self-interested nationalism and patriotism relevant for an expanded scope of citizenship. (It is striking that the massive machinery of academic and commercial public opinion surveys has completely neglected study of attitudes of national and international identification.) But there is no need to struggle with traditional terms and concepts in order to deal with the requirements of contemporary citizenship and patriotism —national or supranational. Civic education limited to the inculcation of traditional patriotism or conventional nationalist ideology is obviously inadequate for the complexities of an advanced industrial society and a highly interdependent world. In fact, I find the terms nationalist and patriotic limiting. I offer and make use of the term civic consciousness. It refers to positive and meaningful attachments a person develops to the nation-state. It represents strong commitments but not without a self-critical component. Civic consciousness is a relatively self-critical version of patriotism in an advanced industrial society. Civic consciousness is compatible with and required for both national and international responsibilities and obligations. It involves elements of reason and self-criticism as well as personal commitment. In particular, civic consciousness is the process by which national attachments and national obligations are molded into the search for supranational citizenship. I believe that given the state of military technology and the forms of international conflict, the concept of civic consciousness is highly relevant both for the career military and the short-term personnel of the all-volunteer military. A military concerned with effective national alliances, with arms control and peacekeeping, and with regional political stability cannot hide under old-fashioned patriotism. Its patriotism must be linked to the positive roles it is asked to perform.

Patriotism and nationalist ideology of the reconstructed variety still require a strong emphasis on the inculcation of tradition; which elements of tradition are relevant is a highly debatable matter. In any case, civic consciousness rests on an important component of effective and reasoned education. It is easy to offer formal programs of civic education, especially for military personnel. But such an analysis is beyond the scope of this article. The central and unanswered question is: Will such programs work? Still another question persists:

Who shall educate the educators themselves? Yet, at this point, I am interested in the positive and negative educational effects of military service, be it conscript or volunteer.

Military Service and
the "Citizen Soldier"

The strongest test of citizen obligation is performance of military service in defense of the nation-state. Such an assertion is fully compatible with conscientious objection to military service based on religious, ethical, or even political grounds. A democratic polity does not require a tyranny of the majority. To state the issue alternatively, military obligation may be highly distasteful, but it cannot be without pervasive legitimacy if it is to be an expression of democratic citizenship.

Let me press the argument of military service and citizenship even further. Obviously, military institutions even in peacetime, but especially in wartime, rest on authoritarian structures that operate at variance with the procedures of a democratic polity. I offer that observation, although my years of research on military organization highlight for me the growth of managerial authority in the armed forces. War is immensely destructive and traumatic for its participants. Of course, most of the armed forces are not fighters. Nevertheless, participants in military formations are subject in varying degree to the ethos of the "management of violence." My reading of politico-military history and my specific analysis of the experiences the United States has had lead me to the conclusion that military experience, although it may in the generality of world history be destructive of democratic values of citizenship, is hardly universally so. The case of the United States and selected Western democracies in important aspects has been at least a partial but noteworthy exception.

However, the paradox is deep and complex, and I make no claim that I fully understand it. Mass armed forces, with effective discipline and technologically advanced weapons, developed first in the West. Yet in the West, democratic political institutions were able to emerge and persist despite these military institutions that increased in their organizational weight and potential political power. Patriotism, including its more strident forms, has in the past been stimulated by the military profession.

Nevertheless, military dictatorship was not the outcome. No one would deny the role of the military as a powerful pressure group during the contemporary period in Western democratic states. But Harold D. Lassell’s provocative imagery of the "garrison state" has not come into being during the twentieth century in those countries.3 In fact, in Western nation-states, the emergence of advanced industrialism has been accompanied by a decline in the threat of direct political intervention by the military and an increase in the supremacy of civilian control. But the military as a powerful and traditionally patriotic group presents a range of political dilemmas. Even in the historically troublesome case of Germany, we have at last the emergence of civilian control in the armies of the Federal Republic of Germany.

I am in effect stating that in modern history the military elites of the West have had immense resources and the organizational power to effect greater military intervention into the political process than has actually taken place. By contrast, in other regions weaker armies historically have exerted greater political power. In particular, the very limited military forces of developing nations have, since 1945, revealed the extensive capacity of their military elites to dominate political life in their nation-states. Obviously, we are dealing not only with the relative resources and potential power of the military but with the weakness of civil-political institutions in the Third World.

If we focus on Western parliamentary polities, can one discern the conditions under which military service has operated as a positive and effective form of civic education? It is clear that, for fighters and nonfighters as well, military service is a powerful experience, a deeply moving experience in the fashioning, for better or worse, group sentiments and affiliations.

The historical record does not permit one to offer the hypothesis that conscript armies with widespread participation serve as effective agencies of citizen education. Conscription per se is not the relevant variable. There are too many instances of authoritarian regimes that have perpetuated centralized and arbitrary power by the use of conscription. These regimes have used conscription to create a police system and coercive control over the population that served in the military. With the passage of time, many of these regimes were weakened by the mass mobilization that conscription generated.

It is rather the development and acceptance of the concept of the citizen soldier — as both a political symbol and military reality — which has been an operative factor in civic education contributing to civilian supremacy and viable patriotism. The citizen soldier has a long and interrupted history going back to the Greek city states. But the American and French revolutions have come to serve as the historic moments in the emergence of the modern military and political version of this classic formula. (I would not overlook the equivalent experience of Great Britain, where local militia had important implications for citizen participation in political control of the central armed forces.)

Service for the citizen soldier, of course, takes a variety of forms: service in the local militia (later the national guard); membership in volunteer military units; and, most extensive, participation in conscripted forces with large reserve components. The idea of the citizen soldier is as much a political and idea logical formula as it is a system of organizing military manpower. But regardless of the type of service, the central political element is that military service rests on the obligation of the citizen to the nation-state.4 Of course, cadres of career professionals are required, but the citizenry supplies the bulk of the personnel.

Moreover, the person who serves as a citizen soldier does not lose his civilian political rights. These rights may be temporarily constricted, but the less the better. In fact, military service demonstrates one’s citizenship, and in turn citizenship is enhanced by military service. As a political formula, there is a strong element of symbolic myth in the citizen soldier, but the symbolic content has its political importance along with actual military realities.

Concretely, I suggest the following hypothesis for the United States, which can be adapted to other Western political democracies. From the American Revolution to the end of World War II, military service, expressed in the duties and obligations of the various forms of citizen soldiering (and the associated forms of militarily influenced patriotism), were at least compatible with parliamentary democracy. In fact, experience during the American Revolution and subsequent military involvements served as a form of civic education in support of the democratic polity. This is not to justify the moral worth of any specific military action, to imply that results were uniformly beneficial, or to overlook the hyperpatriotism that agitations by veteran groups have generated. Rather it is to cause us to assess the overall outcome of the citizen-soldier format on patriotism and democratic perspectives in comparison with consequences of service in the all-volunteer force.

My overall hypothesis faces limiting conditions; namely, since the end of conscription in June 1973, there has been a decline in the effectiveness of military service as an agency of civic education. We need to investigate whether the reconstruction of patriotism becomes thwarted, as I believe has been and will even more be the case. It may be that for the majority of the active-duty military their patriotic perspective is more pragmatic and reconstructed than rigid and merely traditional. However, for one segment of the military (and civilian) population, the frustrations and tensions of international relations generate a rigid and defensive patriotism, a form of maladapative xenophobia that hinders creative problem-solving and effective pragmatism. For another segment, indifference to these issues appears to be the defensive response; this is especially true of the recruits with limited education and from socially marginal backgrounds.

Of course, the long-term impact of the all-volunteer military is not predetermined. But with the introduction of nuclear weapons, the old-fashioned cycle of war and peace gives way to a permanent and chronic tension and struggle between superpowers and their client states. How can one expect that under such conditions military service will automatically and as a matter of course enhance a person’s understanding of the political environment and broaden and deepen the scope of his patriotism? Unless corrective measures are taken, the reverse is likely to happen. Interestingly enough, decline in the ability of the armed forces to operate as an agency of effective civic education is matched by the decline in the public school system to perform its civic education and civic consciousness functions.

University of Chicago


1. Edward Shils and Morris Janowitz, "Social Cohesion and Disintegration in the Wehrmacht in World War II," The Public Opinion Quarterly, vol. 2 (1948), pp. 280-316.

2. Ibid., p. 281.

3. Harold D. Lassell, "The Garrison State," American Journal of Sociology, 1941, vol. 46, pp. 455-68.

4. Morris Janowitz, "The Citizen Soldier and National Service," Air University Review, November-December 1979, pp. 2-16.


Morris Janowitz (Ph.D., University of Chicago) is Distinguished Service Professor of Sociology and Social Sciences at the University of Chicago. He is founding chairman of the Inter-University Seminar on Armed Forces and Society and editor of its journal, Armed Forces and Society. Dr. Janowitz is the leading American military sociologist and author of the classic study The Professional Soldier. His latest book is The Last Half Century: Societal Change and Politics in America. Dr. Janowitz is currently engaged in a long-term study of civic education and citizens. He is a previous contributor to the Review.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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